James Cornwell explains the thinking behind the new Well Building Standard and the benefits it could bring to the built environment.
22 September 2015 | By James Cornwell
In February a new standard was introduced to the UK - the WELL Building Standard, hailed as the world's first building standard to focus exclusively on human health and wellness.
You might wonder if we need another green building certification system when existing Green Building certification standards, BREEAM (the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) already focus on the delivery of sustainable buildings.
These meet sustainability standards in building design, construction, fit-out and operation, but they do so from the perspective of the building rather than the occupants, and are focused more on preserving the environment and cutting costs than enhancing the health of the people inside.
The WELL Building Standard focuses on putting the wellbeing of the occupants of a building first - by linking best practices in design and construction with evidence-based health and wellness interventions.
But there is some synergy between it and existing standards. The WELL Building Standard, devised by US-based property developer Delos, is managed and administered by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) and is third-party-certified through IWBI's collaboration with the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) - the certification body for the LEED Green Building Rating System.
It has the seal of approval from the British Council of Offices (BCO), which in May published a paper, Putting People First: Designing For Health And Wellbeing In The Built Environment. This argued the need for this new standard focused entirely on the health and wellness of building occupants and calling for a better understanding of related medical science research and a deeper collaboration between owners, architects, engineers, contractors and FM to identify design criteria that go beyond comfort.
What does it do?
The WELL Building Standard sets performance requirements in seven categories relevant to health in the built environment, each of which comprises a series of features that add up to a total of 102 features that must be applied to each building project.
Air: Although other standards do address air quality from the perspective of heating and ventilation, the Well Building Standard goes further in determining if the quality of air - whether via air conditioning or natural ventilation meets 'medically validated performance based thresholds for healthy indoor air quality'.
Water: This standard approaches water from the perspective of the consumer, putting the emphasis on implementing design, technology, and treatment strategies to achieve optimal water quality for all internal water uses.
Nourishment: Sets of protocols to reduce the availability of unhealthy foods in the environment and encourage healthy eating among building inhabitants.
Light: Lack of exposure to natural light can have an adverse effect on quality of sleep, level of alertness, emotional state and overall health and wellbeing. The Well Building Standard aims to ensure that room illumination minimises disruption to the body's circadian rhythm while providing appropriate illumination for all tasks.
Fitness: The objective is to provide building occupants with opportunities for physical activity, so a Well Certified building must meet a performance threshold, which includes access to a gym, fitness protocols and technologies.
Comfort: The Comfort Concept takes a holistic approach to address the different factors at work - ergonomics, acoustics, electromagnetic fields, hygiene, temperature control and air flow, to enable occupants to experience comfort, both physically and mentally.
Mind: This implements design, technology, and treatment strategies to provide a built environment in which the occupant's mental and emotional wellbeing is enriched. It even introduces the idea of biophilia - that there is an instinctive bond between humans and nature.
These features are intended to address specific health, comfort or knowledge aspects, meaning that a WELL-Certified space can help to create a built environment that improves the nutrition, fitness, mood, sleep patterns, and performance of its occupants. Fourfront Group is working with several clients to implement the standard. The level of interest in it is growing, particularly among tech and media organisations. As so many environmental assessment methods are becoming general best practice, we have found that it offers something new by focusing on the psychological and physiological health of people who, after all, are the most important aspect of any organisation.
James Cornwell is the environmental and quality director at Fourfront Group